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The five virtues of a pearl

By Carolyn Enting

The five virtues of a pearl
There is nothing more beautiful than a pearl. We share the top five ways to identify the perfect pearl.

There is nothing more beautiful than a perfect pearl. It almost seems a crime to drill a hole in it so that it can be threaded. That’s why I love the design of Paspaley’s ‘Lavalier’ collection pendants, which hold and protect the precious pearls in nets of fine gold.

Pioneers of the South Sea pearl industry Paspaley offer a pearl appreciation experience from its boutique in Broome, Australia. You can view, hold and learn about the five virtues of pearls – lustre, complexion, shape, colour and size – and what differentiates a good pearl from a bad one.

Here are the five virtues that you should look for when purchasing a pearl:

Lustre: The magic of a pearl lies in its lustre, which is a reference of the refraction of light from within the pearl, and the finer the layers of nacre are, the deeper the light can go, explains the Paspaley expert. “The deeper the light can go the more refraction it can have. Sometimes it is so fine it can even start to refract the colour spectrum, and that’s where we get that beautiful pink from,” she says, holding a luminous pink pearl up to the light. Lustre is the considered the most important virtue of the five. “If you can imagine a chalky looking pearl, that’s bad lustre. A pearl that has very good lustre has an alluring brilliance from a sharp inner glow which indicates superior quality nacre.”

Complexion: You can’t get lustre without complexion, or lustre without complexion. They go hand in hand and only the best make it into the Paspaley Boutique. It is extremely rare to find a pearl with a flawless surface. Noticeable imperfections significantly compromise a pearl’s allure and value.

Shape: This has a big impact on price in terms of desirability though shape does not affect a pearl’s quality. Round pearls are the most valued and usually the most expensive, as well as the rare teardrop shape which are extremely rare, because they are the most desired. Less popular shapes include the triangle and button (though they are perfect for rings) but ultimately the beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Baroque pearls are attractive to those who prefer individuality because no two baroque pearls are the same.

Colour: When people think of pearls, they think white but pearls come in a range of beautiful colours including pink, cream, gold and even green. “The greens aren’t a very nice colour so we don’t usually keep the green,” she says.The colour from within is called “the orient of a pearl”. White with pink overtones is the most prized colour. When choosing a pearl it is also important to choose a colour that best suits your skin tone, for example, pink pearls are great for olive complexions.

Size: Larger pearls are typically more valuable due to their greater rarity. Pearls are measured in millimetres by width. Australian South Sea pearls have very thick pearl nacre and are the largest of all pearls, typically ranging from 8mm to 16mm. Larger sizes exceeding 20mm are occasionally found and such pearls are highly prized. When buying pearls, it is important to choose a size that suits your build. For example, if you are petite smaller pearls are more suited to your shape.

To see for yourself how the lustre of a pearl can vary, visit which has a sliding scale diagram that visibly demonstrates poor to excellent lustre.


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